The Sunday Sermon: World Communion Sunday – October 2, 2016
The Bread The Cup The World
Today is World Communion Sunday, formerly known as “Worldwide Communion Sunday.” I take the time to remind you again this year that this celebration originated in the Presbyterian Church in 1933, but quickly spread beyond our own denomination and celebrates the unity we all share in our common profession of Christ as Lord as Savior. Congregations around the world have gathered, are gathering even now, and will gather this afternoon or evening to share the common meal that, more than any doctrine or dogma, procedure or practice, unites us all in our Christian faith.
I try to utilize this Sunday every year to ground us not only in our global identity, but in the church universal’s very reason for being: Remembering, celebrating, and sharing the Good News of God in Jesus the Christ. No better place than around our table. No better time than a Sunday on which we celebrate Communion with one another. No better Sunday than World Communion Sunday, when we celebrate this meal with all of our Christian brothers and sisters.
Pray with me …
Communion – the Lord’s Supper, the Eucharist, the Sacrament of the Altar, or the Mass (in the Catholic Church) – is more than just a meal we share once a month in this room, this sanctuary. It is that, of course, but as we celebrate World Communion Sunday, we are reminded that this sacrament, this celebration is, or should be, an intricate and intimate part of our “world” or “worlds” beyond this (or any other) sanctuary. Communion reminds us, asks us to remember, that we are Jesus’ body in the world, all around the world.
This morning I’ve woven together a few personal pastoral stories that, along with various scripture readings from the Gospels of Matthew and Luke and the Letter of Paul to the Corinthians, speak to several different meanings of this meal beyond this room in which we most often share it.
Now, listen for the Word of God first from Matthew: Read Matthew 26:26-27
While they were eating, Jesus took a loaf of bread, and after blessing it, he broke it, gave it to the disciples, and said, “Take, eat; this is my body. Then he took a cup, and after giving thanks, he gave it to them, saying, “Drink from it, all of you.” The Lord’s Supper as a Thanksgiving.
Here’s the first story: One evening early in my ministry I was sitting alone in the my church’s dining room waiting for a few other youth advisors to show up for our Sunday evening Youth Group. I had arrived early to be sure the kitchen was open and the tables set up for dinner. As I waited, one of my Senior High youth came in. I greeted her, thinking, “She’s horrified that right now that she is the first to arrive and I am the only one in the room and she has to talk to me until someone gets here and that could be a very long time, five minutes at least …”
She greeted me, too, and as I was preparing to begin with some general observation about school or the weather or what was keeping her busy, she turned to me and asked: “What are we supposed to do with Jewish people, or Muslims, or people who don’t believe in any religion at all?” I remember thinking it would be a very long time until someone else would arrive, five minutes at least.
We talked about the radically inclusive love of God and how our ways of dividing up who gets what, even eternal life, will have little to no effect on God’s love for the world.
If we are to truly “remember” Jesus in our Communion meal – what he said and what he did – then we must believe that interaction, reconciliation, and ministry with others of different faiths is one of the most faithful things we can do. That’s esactly what he did. Being Christian identifies us, it doesn’t – and it shouldn’t – condemn others. Interaction, conversation, even participation with other religious traditions actually deepens our own faith identity.
We gather at this table in thanksgiving, to remember and be thankful that God is God and we are not. We are thankful for everything God accomplishes in creation and reveals to us in the one we call Christ. The Lord’s Supper as Thanksgiving.
Listen again for the Word of God: Read Luke 22:19 … (Jesus) took a loaf of bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and gave it to them, saying, “This is my body which is given for you. Do this in remembrance of me. The Lord’s Supper as a Memorial of Christ.
I’ve shared this thought with you in years past, but one of the real joys of my ministry with this congregation is the time I spend with you in the “classroom.” Every time I do, I try to engage this group that gathers, the “class,” in conversation. I think of the time we spend in the classroom a conversation. We’ve had some wonderful and challenging “conversations” over the years (none more so than the one that’s coning on right now – Science, Religion, and our Evolving Faith – and I look forward to what’s ahead, but I know some of you leave a bit frustrated. Not so much because of the topic, but because we never seem to “figure it all out!” But that’s just it: In a true “conversation” we don’t find many (if any) answers. Instead, as we talk, and share, and explore our faith from scripture, tradition, and or own experience, we try to “live into our questions.”
Because of our openness to other religious faith traditions, we embrace conversation and pluralism and difference. We have to be able to respond with a faithful “I don’t know,” to many of life’s questions, questions that are asked as we explore our sources for moral guidance. But in all our uncertainty and ambiguity, what we do know is that we are people who have come to believe that ultimate truth is defined in and by Jesus of Nazareth, the one we call Christ.
We celebrate that, we “remember” that every time we gather at this table in this room and we should remember and celebrate that every time we break bread with another anywhere. We celebrate the identity that God has given us and that we claim in the incarnation, life, death and resurrection of Christ. The Lord’s Supper as a Memorial.
One more time – Listen for the Word: Read 1 Corinthians 11:26 … For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes. The Lord’s Supper as the Meal of the Kingdom Come. The Kingdom come …
Do you remember a time when we lived our lives together with fulfillment as our guiding promise? A time when we believed, without seriously questioning, that what we had was enough. And if it wasn’t enough, we would be able to receive enough through hard work and the charity of others. Do you remember a time when what we desired, what we “wanted,” was put into a larger perspective, a part of the whole seen in light of a greater fellowship?
I remember feeling that as a child. My parents and my world (limited as it was during childhood) preached a “promise of fulfillment,” not verbally for the most part, but just by the way we lived and loved. I’m aware of a bit of nostalgia, here. Katie and my kids make sure I do when I start reminiscing too sentimentally(!), but I grew up learning that there was a difference between what I wanted and what I needed. All my wishes were not going to be fulfilled. All my desires were not going to be met. All my wishes were not going to be granted. But the promises people made to me and my brothers and, to the best of my memory, the promises my parents made to each other and others, were made to be fulfilled. That may not always have happened, but they were never made lightly, to make someone feel good for the moment or for personal advancement.
We now live in a world that is ruled not by the “Promise of Fulfillment,” by the “Promise of Possibility.” Think about that. We walk into a fast food restaurant and peel a game piece that contains a promise of possibility. Billboard announcements we pass on the way anywhere read “Someone has to win,” we promise it could possibly be you. Radio and television ads sell us promises in staggering numbers – you could possibly own this car, vacation in this paradise, have perfect children/perfect parents/perfect relationships if you buy this, use these, and learn that. You could possibly be popular, by stylish, be carefree, secure your future if you drink this, wear this and produce that. We promise this could possibly be you. But it rarely, if ever, is … And we blame ourselves … And we lose ourselves.
This of course is where our faith most heavily critiques the world we’ve created and where this table finds its fullest power for our lives. God in Christ does not promise possibility. God in Christ promises fulfillment. Whenever we gather around this table we speak with equal conviction. The celebration of this meal is an instance of our participation in the Kingdom of God on earth. That Kingdom extends far beyond these walls, and our celebration must, too. We share Christ’s love for us, we care for one another and others, and we dare to dream of “heaven on earth.” The Lord’s Supper is a joyful feast that celebrates the Kingdom on earth.
Jesus broke the bread and shared the cup for the first time with his followers to show them what they have to do to live together: Share this meal. Be thankful, remember me, re-member yourselves, live in and work for the Kingdom of God on earth. Our formal “Stewardship Season begins next Sunday. We’ll celebrate what we have done and what we, as good stewards of our time and talents and money, hope to accomplish in 2017 through our annual pledges and offerings. But we begin here … with Christians around the world: We will feed the hungry, clothe the naked, and free the captives, and these things will make us better, but until we find ourselves at this table, we won’t find ourselves whole.
So … after we sing and empty ourselves through our offering, let us come to the table again, this morning with congregations around the world to thank God, to remember Christ, to celebrate the Kingdom here on earth … and to be made whole for all that lies ahead.
Reverend Joel Weible, Pastor / Pewee Valley Presbyterian Church / October 2, 2016